Sponsored Content l October 20, 2019

LREI and Pride: A Story of Learning and Welcoming

“How can we better serve your family?” This simple question, asked in the early 1990’s by LREI’s lower school principal of one of the school’s first out same-sex headed households had ramifications far beyond what was expected and continues to guide our work today.

Realizing that we had a growing number of out same-sex headed households enrolled in LREI (Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School), we had to acknowledge that the experience of a two-mom or two-dad family would be different from the experience that a mom-dad family was having.

For more than 20 years this simple yet powerful idea has taken the school in many directions, often unexpected, always fruitful. The original group of families who came together to advise us turned into the school’s first affinity group - the Gay and Lesbian Parents Association, now our Gender Sexuality Alliance, one for adults, one for our middle school students, and for our high school students. Another on-going tradition that began early in the school’s work on equity issues regarding sexual orientation and gender identity is our bi-annual “Visibility” photo exhibit. The photo exhibit began when we rented a traveling exhibit depicting gay and lesbian headed households entitled, Love Makes a Family. After hosting this photo exhibit for a few years, and finding that the beautiful pictures of loving families provided a terrific way to create conversations around what it means to be a family, we decided that it would be all the more impactful if the photos, so filled with love and decency, were of members of the LREI community. Beginning in the early 2000’s this is exactly what we did. We solicited photos from all members of the LREI community - from students and families, from staff, from alumni, etc. This exhibit was then visited by all students with discussions built into class time throughout the school. In addition, to kick off the exhibit we hosted a joyous opening reception, celebrating the love that was on display in the photos and a description of the lives they illustrated. This event led to other community wide events at LREI, including a lower school “Families” assembly and middle school and high school gatherings organized by groups, the Gender Sexuality Alliance.

In the early 2000’s, the school joined NYC’s annual Pride March for the first time. As the march grew so did the number of LREI participants. As our group grew we added a float, and soon other independent schools began to join us or participate on their own. More than 15 years in, the enthusiasm for participating in this festive event is unabated. The responses we witness in the crowd as they see children, young and old, participating is moving and energizing and keeps us going on the day of the march and in the days that follow. Participating in the march is a profound experience for our students. To be part of something so meaningful, so large, so current, is transformative.

Starting with the most basic idea, that as a school community we owe each family the same level ofattention and care while understanding that to some degree what that care consists of will be quite different, our focus on LGBTQIA+ rights and issues and community has made LREI a better school for children and a more formative community for children and adults alike.

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